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Supreme Court says authorities can take DNA swabs

Supreme Court says authorities can take DNA swabs

Although the consensus was far from unanimous, the Supreme Court ruled recently that law enforcement officials can take DNA swabs from those who are taken into custody for a serious criminal offense, regardless of whether or not they have been convicted. An article that was published in USA Today sheds light on the issue and the opinions of some of the Supreme Court members who voted.

Justice Samuel Alito believes that the 2013 case, which was settled by a 5-4 vote, was more important than any other criminal procedure case that had been before the court in decades. While Justice Alito is a strong supporter of officers taking DNA swabs, other Supreme Court Justices had reservations. Justice Antonin Scalia believes this procedure represents unreasonable search, while Justice Sonya Sotomayor is concerned about the possibility of this practice finding its way into workplaces and schools throughout the country.

Unrelated arrest stems rape charge and conviction

The case was brought before the Supreme Court after a man in Maryland was charged with rape based on a DNA swab. The DNA was collected when the man was arrested for a non-related charge. He was convicted of the charge but on appeal, a Maryland court ruled the state did not have the right to take his DNA. The state then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The high court agreed with the state, reversed the ruling and the rape conviction was reinstated.

While the court has made it clear that they do not find DNA collection a violation of a person’s constitutional rights, many still voice concern with this practice, such as:

  • The placing of the DNA into a national registry
  • The DNA used to solve other crimes
  • Overload of the DNA database
  • Personal privacy issues 

Supporters believe that officers should take DNA swabs from people who have been apprehended for a felony or other serious offense. They argue it is similar to taking fingerprints and pictures of suspected offenders.

Potential consequences

More than half of the states in this country already have laws in place that permit the collection of DNA. Although the practice is not currently permitted in Minnesota, this could change as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Because authorities use this DNA to assist in the investigation of other crimes, opponents are worried about the possibility of wrongful convictions and false positives. Not only can DNA be misinterpreted or contaminated, but fraudulent activity and the switching of samples could occur. When someone is arrested for a criminal offense, it is a good idea for them to meet with an attorney as soon as possible to protect their rights.

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